Henry Ford’s Hemp Car Re-Examined

Remember the famous picture of Mr. Ford slamming the back of his car with an Axe or some sort of large pounding device? (see picture below). We’ve googled that image, whichmost people  refer as “Henry’s Hemp Car” –  but according to the officials at the Henry Ford Museum it was actually known as the “Soybean car”.

“The famous picuture of Henry Ford hitting a car with an axe is not a picture of the soybean car. It was actually Ford’s personal car with a plastic rear deck lid made to fit it. He liked to demonstrate the strength of the plastic, and the ax he used would fly out of his hands, about 15 ft. (a rubber boot was placed on the sharp end of the ax) into the air.”

But Hempers have no fear, Henry knew the potential that was growing out in those fields.

“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?” – Henry Ford

Sadly because of WWII and the immediate need for production the Hemp, Soybean and Flax fantasy whithered into a memory.

And here is video from way back when:

From the Henry Ford Museum on line:

Many people ask us about Henry Ford’s experiments with making plastic parts for automobiles in the early 1940s. These experiments resulted in what was described as a “plastic car made from soybeans”. Although this automobile never made it into the museum’s collections, we thought we would address the myriad questions we receive about this unique and fascinating vehicle.

What is it?
The “Soybean Car” was actually a plastic-bodied car unveiled by Henry Ford on August 13, 1941 at Dearborn Days, an annual community festival.

What was it made of?
The frame, made of tubular steel, had 14 plastic panels attached to it. The car weighed 2000 lbs., 1000 lbs. lighter than a steel car. The exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists today. One article claims that they were made from a chemical formula that, among many other ingredients, included soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie; while the man who was instrumental in creating the car, Lowell E. Overly, claims it was “…soybean fiber in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde used in the impregnation” (Davis, 51).

Who helped make/design it?
Henry Ford first put E.T. (Bob) Gregorie of the Styling Department in charge, but was not satisfied. He then transferred the project to the Soybean Laboratory in Greenfield Village and to the care of Lowell E. Overly, whose formal training was in tool and die design. His supervisor, Robert A. Boyer, a chemist, aided him.

What was it used for?
The car was exhibited at Dearborn Days in 1941. It was also trucked to the Michigan State Fair Grounds for display later that year.

Why was it built?
There were several reasons why Henry Ford wanted to build this car: 1.) He was looking for a project that would combine the fruits of industry with agriculture. 2.) He also claimed that the plastic panels made the car safer than traditional steel cars; and that the car could even roll over without being crushed. 3.) Another reason was due to a shortage of metal at the time. Henry hoped his new plastic material might replace the traditional metals used in cars.

Why weren’t more ‘soybean’ cars built?
The outbreak of World War II suspended all auto production, and therefore the plastic car experiment. A second unit was in production at the time the war broke out, but the project was abandoned. By the end of the war the idea of a plastic car had fallen through the cracks due to energy being directed towards war recovery efforts.

Where is the car today?
According to Overly, the car was destroyed by E.T. Gregorie. (Davis, 51).

Curse you E.T. Gregorie!!! That would have been an awesome artifact in our one day, Hemp Museum.


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